Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Luke 7:11-17
We pray: Loving God you have declared that your kingdom is among us. Open our eyes to see it, our ears to hear it, our hearts to hold it and our hands to serve it. This we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
I was having my usual Friday lunch with our daughter Jessie and we got talking about hope – or rather hopelessness – and in particular we spoke about two books, both what we call post-apocalyptic books – On the Beach by Neville Shute which we had both read, and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” which Jessie had just finished reading.
On the beach – a book of the gradual annihilation of the life of the world by the inexorable southerly drift of the nuclear fallout from the northern hemisphere WW III – where people knew that it was only a matter of time.
Did you know that the title of the book was taken from TS Eliots poem The Hollow Men – from where also comes the phrase “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper”
The Road – written in 2006 – has a world completely burnt up by some kind of catastrophe (one never finds out what exactly) – a father and his young son follow a road – through ashen landscapes and survivors who have lost all sense of humanity – aiming for the coast where their might or might not be some hope. And there is not!
Now that I have totally depressed you let me assure you that both novels hold out a glimpse of hope for humanity – in different ways for sure - and it’s really hard to find – but it’s there.
And so too it must have been in the two stories we heard today – a woman and child of Sidon starved to a point of accepting death as inevitable and a widow burying not just her son but, with him, her ability to survive in a world where she would receive nothing.
The gospel story is really rather cursory – only told in Luke and very little detail around the people involved – no request for help, no words of thanks or response from the mother or son – they play quite a passive role. The response comes from the crowd around – seeing in Jesus’ compassionate response to one who was on the extreme end of vulnerability, hopelessness you might say, as a sign of the promised coming of God to the people of God. This was the one pledged in the ancient promises.
In the case of the widow and son whom Elijah met at Zarephath, there is a little more in the story – for instance we know the woman was generous still to the role of hospitality and welcome. And yet it must have been a cruel taunt – share your last meal with me, why don’t you? I can’t help the thought that a writer today might well end the story differently – and the word ‘muggins’ might well feature – but in this biblical tale of God’s grace we find a hope in the midst of nothing. An impossibility in the face of inevitable human demise.
I do think we have to be careful here though – if we just see these two stories as about human hopelessness and an interventionist God who brings relief, then we are I believe missing what God is saying to us. If we see God only as a divine dabbler who intervenes in our misery and makes it all ok then we are off track.
Because we don’t, for instance, see that there was anything done here that would have made their future lives any easier – no mega lottery wins or transportation to the ever green lands of plenty – life would continue to happen, sometimes good, sometimes purely awful.
We also don’t have any sense of their needing to repay the gift of healing – both the very private story of the widow and son in the Hebrew Scriptures and the incredibly public healing of the widow’s son by Jesus offer no hint of their signing up for membership in response or in gratitude.
In some ways the people involved in the stories were almost unimportant – passive really – and the reason for this is, I think, to encourage us to focus on the infinite compassion and love that pours out of Christ on seeing the pain and sorrow of this woman. He could not pass by such affliction –‘ he had compassion for her’ are the words Luke uses.
I believe what Jesus was saying to us with this story is about the very real need there is in the world for healing, that there are people who know no hope, who are vulnerable ( I know I use that word a lot but there is a lot of it around) and helpless/hopeless, that nothing less is asked of us than the pouring out of our love and compassion, our tender hands and caring hearts – and that we are to offer it freely, drawn by nothing but their state of need.
Remember, neither women had actually asked for help, the opposite in fact, they were pretty much accepting of their fate, and neither had rolled out their credentials for being saved, ‘pick me, pick me’. Rather God sought them both out in their need and offered to take up the pain and the sorrow – no conditions attached – and asks us to do the same.
Powerful powerful story of love isn’t it?
- Not easy to live though – for to truly help, when we pour out our hearts we inevitably become involved and that can mean hurt and pain for us too.
-There are few shortcuts to success – life rarely changes course and complexities of relationship and human need make for rugged travelling at times.
-When we give we need to also need to refill our well – find places of healing and nurturing for ourselves that we might be generous gifters of love. We remind ourselves today as we gather around the table that do not ask us to go out unprepared or alone – you are with us.
-Its not about fixing something and then leaving – it’s for the long haul and we will change and grow and be challenged if we have compassion for, seek to wipe the tears of others.
Jesus heart was moved in compassion – for the widow and for all humanity – the cross stands to attest to that, does it not? The cross, in the midst of the complexities and pain of human life, stands for hope and renewal for all people, but especially those whose plight moves us to infinite compassion. The world needs that kind of good news and our challenge is to become it and to help others become it.